Preparation for Sequoia's ride across the Atlantic
22 April 2017 | Jacksonville, Florida
Barbara/ hot and windy
It seems so long ago that I wrote of our arrival in Jacksonville on April 19, yet I think it was only 3 days ago. So much has happened!
While we awaited word as to when we’d load Sequoia onto the freighter Singelgracht, we stayed at a small marina around the corner from the commercial docks. Seafarers Marina appears to be mostly live-aboard, populated by some fairly decrepit boats, plenty of small yippy dogs, lots of small noisy air conditioners, retired folks, and some poor working folks. They keep one slip open for visitors (that would be us).
The tide rise and fall in this part of Florida is only about 3 feet, so they have no need for floating docks. The docks are instead fixed on pilings, and there is an occasional “finger pier” that steps down and extends part way out between boats. Otherwise the boats are moored to pilings on both sides, and to the main dock at bow or stern. When you arrive, you’re supposed to catch a line to or from a piling on either side as you nose in or back in to the slip. This was a completely new experience for us, and we weren’t very good at it. Fortunately the marina manager, Nikki, helped with the lines, and we managed to get Sequoia situated. After that it was a matter of acrobatics and Fate whether you had to step up or down to the little finger pier, and how far!
The other problem with the marina was the wind. While we were there we had to get the two jibs hoisted and then removed from their furlers and into their sailbags. The wind was strong enough in the afternoon that we just barely got the job done for the staysail (the smaller jib) and we gave up on the genoa. Instead we hired the marina manager’s husband, Lee, to come around in the early morning and help us with the genoa. Lee is young and strong, and in the business of helping people, primarily through working as a rescue tow boat driver for Tow Boat US. Lee keeps his small, maneuverable, powerful boat at the marina, for just such purposes. Later that same day, after he helped us with the genoa, he headed out the St. Johns River to rescue a 47 foot sailboat. They were just starting on a passage from Jacksonville across the Atlantic to the UK, and their engine transmission failed as they went down the river. Better here than in the middle of the ocean!
While we were at the Seafarer’s Marina, we spent most of our time preparing the boat for its upcoming passage across the Atlantic on the deck of the Singelgracht. Besides removing the two jibs, we had to remove the backstay to allow the Singelgracht’s crane to lift the boat aboard, and rig running backstays to ensure the mast stays aloft without the backstay. The anchor had to be secured, the anchor windlass plugged and covered, solar panels folded, interior items secured against vibration (much as for a sailing passage across an ocean), and other large and small tasks too numerous for me to now remember. We decided not to remove the mainsail (which we had done for the earlier passage on the Merwedegracht) primarily because we knew that this time Sequoia would be placed in a much more protected position on the freighter’s deck.
Concurrently with all this, there was considerable back and forth by email and telephone about the date of loading, the date of arrival in… Wait! The destination just changed! We received an email from our customs agent, and it listed the arrival port as… Ghent, Belgium. (We previously had been told it would be Eemshaven, The Netherlands, which is much closer to the Baltic – our primary destination this summer.) So we looked for a navigation chart that covers Ghent (we don’t have any), and we resorted to Google Maps. Ghent, it turns out is 30 miles inland, past a couple of sets of locks, and without any apparent facilities for sailboats like ours.
Passage for a pleasure boat on the deck of a freighter is incidental for the shipping company. They are primarily driven by what cargo they carry in their holds, and where that cargo is being shipped. Evidently that is all decided fairly close to departure time. We originally booked Sequoia’s passage for Southampton, UK; then it was changed to Eemshaven, and now to Ghent. We don’t really have any option but to accept it and adjust. (I suppose our other option is to wait for a different freighter, possibly months from now, with our boat racking up moorage fees in Florida’s hurricane zone. Not really an option.)
We rented a car to run errands, we did laundry, and we went to West Marine for a few last minute items. The hour was appointed for us to show up at the Singelgracht ready for Sequoia’s lift onto the freighter: 5 pm yesterday. We planned to set out at about 4 pm for the approximately 3 mile trip around the corner to the ship. We asked the marina manager, Nikki, to help us cast off. She showed up with her husband (Lee, the rescue tow boat guy, and another fellow). There was a wind of about 15 knots blowing straight into the slip, and a good current was flowing the same direction. We should have been warned by the fact that three people showed up to cast us off.
We talked through the order of releasing lines, and Lee told us to “gun it.” Craig, ever cautious, proceeded slowly, not wanting to scrape all the way out, removing a solar panel as we passed the pilings, like the barbecue fitting we had scraped off on the way in. We ended up 90 degrees to the wind, pinned against a piling, and Lee sprinted down the dock for his tow boat while the rest of us fended off. He roared up in his little tow boat, took a line and pulled us away from the pilings with no significant damage. Whew!
We showed up as scheduled at the side of the Singelgracht. Unlike the previous lift in Victoria, there was no helper work boat, and no divers. Instead of being ferried to shore, we as passengers on Sequoia were lifted up to the deck of the freighter. When Sequoia was at the same level as the freighter’s deck, we stepped off of Sequoia and onto the Singelgracht. A crew member escorted us up into a lounge/mess hall with a view of the freighter’s deck. It was fascinating to watch while they lifted Sequoia up and over the deck and settled her into place about six feet from the windows of the lounge/mess hall. We saw them place supports under the boat, strap the boat to fittings on deck, and release the lifting straps. Then one of the officers invited us to eat with the crew and we enjoyed a carbohydrate-rich meal designed for physically active young men: beef and peppers, rice, french fries, salad, soup and milk. The officers conversed in Dutch, and the crew (mostly Southeast Asian) ate in silence. We speculate that they may be from so many different countries and cultures that they don’t talk together easily.
After we ate, and after Sequoia was firmly strapped in place, we climbed a ladder up onto the boat and made various arrangements to secure the boat for the passage. Craig restored the backstay and I removed and stowed bumpers. We were escorted off the ship and out of the secure port area, and found ourselves on a lonely street in a questionable part of town. We got an Uber ride to retrieve our car, and thence back to normality.
Today we find ourselves in Orlando, contemplating which of the overwhelming number of Disney and other theme parks we’ll visit tomorrow, before returning home the next day.
It’s been a very eventful 10 days since we left home. We are expectant and hopeful about our new adventures, starting in Ghent about 2 weeks from now! Never a dull moment.
Sequoia in Florida
19 April 2017 | Florida
Barbara & Craig
Craig described for you the rather complex process of getting Sequoia onto the freighter Merwedegracht in Victoria, B.C. Aside from dealing with March weather in the Pacific Northwest, the main challenge was the ever-changing schedule of the Merwedegracht, due primarily to weather conditions in the Pacific Ocean.
With Sequoia and dozens of other boats on her deck, the Merwedegracht headed south out of Victoria toward the Panama Canal. The shipping company has been pretty good about keeping us abreast of the shipping schedule. The definite arrival of the ship at the Panama Canal was April 8 at 5 am. We eagerly watched the Panama Canal's web cameras and their AIS map showing vessel locations. We spotted the Merwedegracht easily on the AIS map - anchored with dozens of other boats off the Pacific entrance to the canal. We waited and waited (a friend said to us, "How many times a day are you checking the AIS?")
I didn't figure we could buy our plane tickets to Florida until we had a more or less accurate forecast of when the Merwedegracht would arrive at West Palm Beach. And of course, the later you buy your plane tickets, the more they'll cost.
Finally, in the late afternoon of April 10 we could see the Merwedegracht move on the AIS map. Now we, and several of our friends, began watching the progress, and switching to the Canal's webcams for the Miraflores Locks. It was completely dark by the time we could see the ship coming into the first lock. Needless to say the picture quality wasn't much. But we could read the name of the ship on her stern, and we could see what we think was Sequoia's mast. Yay!
The ship was completely through the Panama Canal before we got up the next morning, and heading north toward Florida. Now, they told us that she would arrive at West Palm Beach at 9 am on April 15. So I ordered up airplane tickets... Couldn't be round trip because we had no idea when the Singelgracht would be loading up, heading out and arriving in The Netherlands.
The deal was that although the Merwedegracht unloads in West Palm Beach, the best freighter to Europe would be departing from Jacksonville. 250 miles up the coast. Our options were to hire a delivery captain to sail Sequoia from West Palm Beach to Jacksonville ($$$$) or to go to Florida and make the trip ourselves. We decided we might like doing that sail, and the price of air tickets was less than the cost of the delivery captain.
Merwedegracht did indeed arrive at a little before 9 am on April 15. We had intended to watch the arrival, but we were a bit late, and the ship was already in her slip. We walked up the nearby overpass, and got a fairly good view of the ship, once again spotting Sequoia's mast where it should be.
They allowed 2 hours for customs to go through the ship, and we were told that Sequoia would be lifted off at 6:30 pm, after 10-12 other boats. Unfortunately, customs didn't show up until 1 pm. The excuse was apparently that they had some duty to perform connected with Trump being here (The Merwedegracht landed about 2 miles up the coast from Mar-a-Lago.) (Humph!) We were given a new delivery time of 9:30 pm.
(We did not have a hotel for that night, planning on sleeping aboard Sequoia.) I did grocery shopping, including perishables for our trip north. Bought a couple of ice chests, filled with ice, put groceries in car. Hot car. This is a hot place.
At our hotel, a couple of miles away from the docks, we had met a British fellow, Peter, who was sitting by the swimming pool, reading a sailing book. Craig introduced himself, and it turns out Peter and his brother, Bob, were awaiting the arrival of Bob's sailboat ("Crazy Horse") on the same freighter. We quickly became friends, and had several meals together during the waiting. As it turns out, Crazy Horse was the first boat lifted off on the 15th. We were aboard the ship at the time, as we needed to remove the backstay for the unloading operation. It's pretty interesting aboard that ship. We saw the undersides of so many boats (including Sequoia). We also watched part of Crazy Horse's lift-off. Bob and Peter got their boat situated in the Riviera Beach marina and then offered to help us with the re-rigging that would be needed before we could sail up the coast. We expected the re-rigging could begin at 9 am the next morning.
But wait!! The harbor was very windy, with gusts to 25 knots, so the Captain decided, at about 9 pm, that unloading operations had to stop. What to do? There's not much you can do except accommodate to what's happening. So we went back to that same hotel, fortunately they had a room for us. We moved all the groceries inside, along with our other gear, and re-stoked on ice.
Another point of interest - the major group of guests at this hotel was the baseball team, the Houston Astros, who were in town for an early series with the Marlins. It's not that common to see so many good-looking, athletic guys in your hotel! Many seemed not to speak much English; if you tried to converse with them you would only get blank looks. If they were speaking Spanish, it was highly idiomatic. Perhaps it was Creole? These guys seemed to get up every morning at 5 am and splash around in the swimming pool, while holding shouted conversations full of laughter. But seriously, guys, 5 am?
Our new lift-off time was 9:30 am. Merwedegracht hired a little transport boat, run by "Captain John" to transport boat owners over to the ship, to receive their boat. We were supposed to be picked up by Captain John at 9 am. He was pretty late, and when we finally arrived at the ship, Sequoia was floating alongside. We didn't get to see any of the lift-off. Apparently Captain John wanted to watch the lift-off and his comment was that "they didn't tell me anything."
The next problem was that we rented a slip for April 15 at Riviera Beach Marina (closest to the Merwedegracht's docking spot), and we had no boat to put in it. ($$$) The next day, the 16th, when we were actually lifted off, we were told we could only stay in that slip until 11 am, when the slip's owner would be returning. A little bit of mournful talk with the office staff, and they finally allowed as how we could stay until the owner did actually get back - projected to be between 3 and 5 in the afternoon. Moreover, they would let us stay on the fuel dock during its closing hours (5 pm to 8 am).
It took all of that day to get Sequoia re-rigged for the sail up the coast to Jacksonville. Peter and Bob came and helped us, and then we all went out for dinner (having given up our rental car that morning).
So we spent the night on the fuel dock, then left in the morning to anchor just off of a gilded village of Palm Beach mansions. Craig's computations about the trip north suggested that leaving West Palm Beach in the afternoon would be better. There are few boating strategies worse than arriving at a strange harbor in the dark. So we spent the morning doing boat chores, and got underway at about 1:30 in the afternoon.
Craig's computations didn't take into account the Gulf Stream. For about the first 8 hours of our trip it was whooshing along at 5 knots or more. Our normal cruising speed is 7-8 knots, but here, all of a sudden we're going 12-13 over the bottom! That had the effect of changing our predicted arrival time in Jacksonville to - you guessed it - the middle of the night. So once we were clear of the Gulf Stream, we slowed way down, putting up only enough sail to make 4 knots. At one point we hove-to and had a leisurely dinner while the boat went more or less nowhere.
At one point during the passage, we were joined by a tiny Goldfinch. I was at the helm, and as I looked at the deck by my feet, I noticed the shadow of a bird. I turned this way and that, and finally spotted him (or her?) about six inches away on the backstay. There we were, eyeball to eyeball. Oh how I wished I had my camera, but I'm sure any motion would have startled the bird. He finally flew off to perch on another fitting and I called to Craig to get the camera. The little bird flew inside the cabin, and Craig was finally able to get some snapshots. Eventually, though, he flew off, hopefully in the direction of land (about 15 miles away...)
During the passage to Jacksonville, we saw plenty of dolphins and one sea turtle. I would like to have seen a manatee, but I guess they are not out in the ocean. The other interesting event was the launch of an Atlas 5 rocket at Cape Canaveral. The Coast Guard was on the air with all sorts of warnings. We were a little bit past the Cape when the rocket launched - We heard several seconds of loud rumbling noise, and a curvy cloud going up into the sky. It would be nice to have actually seen it!
We arrived in Jacksonville, indeed, at 6:30 am, just as the sun was coming up. The area where we will find the Singelgracht for loading is about 15 miles up the St. John River, so we found a nearby marina where we will prepare the boat for shipping, and will await word as to when that may be. We are maybe the only boat going on the deck of the Singelgracht, and of course no one can give us a schedule. We will suck it up, unrig the boat, and try to survive in the 80-degree weather and brilliant sunshine. Hey, we got our warm water vacation! Schedules still make you crazy.
Say Buddy, Can I Get a Lift?
25 March 2017 | Victoria, B.C., Canada
The first big action in shipping Sequoia to Europe is getting it onto the deck of a freighter. Last Fall we signed a contract with Sevenstar Yacht Transport to move the boat, and at the end of February they identified the ship that would make the first leg of the trip. M/V Merwedegracht is a bulk carrier owned by Spliethoff, the Dutch company that is also the parent of Sevenstar. The freighter took on a cargo below decks in Asia, plus one power boat from Hong Kong, and arrived last Monday in Victoria, B.C. ready to load number of yachts on deck. That was only 5 days later than the original scheduled arrival.
Thanks to the efforts of Dave King and friends, Sequoia made a fast and reasonably uneventful trip up the coast to Port Angeles. With my friend Chip Gardes, I drove up to Port Angeles on Saturday and on Sunday we sailed across to Victoria. Despite 30 knot winds the day before, we were greeted with sunshine, light easterlies, and a massive 8-12 inch chop. So in reality, we motored most of the way, but enjoyed a nice sail in the last hour, 9 knots of wind on the beam. With a clean bottom, Sequoia slid effortlessly along at 4.5-5 knots. Nice!
In Victoria we were assigned a guest moorage at the Causeway Marina, right in front of the historic Empress hotel. Mark Downing met us there after a romantic weekend in the city with his wife, Fern. Now is probably a great time to visit Victoria, as the massive crowds of people and boats that fill the city in the summer were absent.
Our job was to prepare the boat for shipping: remove the sails, dodger and loose deck gear, and make the boat even more secure than it would be for an ocean passage. Because the freighter lifting point was just aft of the mast, we had to set up the running backstays well forward of their normal position so that we could safely remove the standing backstay.
It turned out that we had plenty of time to complete the prep work thanks to 36 hours of accumulated delays in the loading schedule. Although we breakfasted on Sequoia, we managed to find time for great dinners among the many fine restaurants of Victoria. We also took a side trip to Sooke (which we gringos were mispronouncing; it should rhyme with "duke").
There is reportedly a great Provincial Park on the west side of the bay, but due to time constraints we settled for a nice pub lunch so that we could drive back in time for snacks and drinks with our former crew Joe Carr, a Victoria native. Tough duty, but someone had to do it.
Wednesday was a different story, as that was the day of the lift, scheduled for 1400. (As a sidebar, I should explain that we always say "lift;" the alternative is to say "pick up", and the common counterpart to that is "drop off". When dealing with your beloved boat 50 feet in the air, you never use the word "drop". With "lift" you can say "lift on" and "lift off.") About an hour early we motored to Odgen Pt., where the Merwedegracht was moored. It turned out that there was no rush, as the previous lift was going slowly. The boat was a partially complete 68' power cat, which we promptly dubbed the Workinprogress. The skilled crane operator had to reposition it several times to shoehorn it onto the freighter's deck next to the 72' Alumicat that bore Army Corps of Engineers colors.
Lifting Sequoia went amazingly fast. After pulling alongside the freighter, we were held loosely in position by lines thrown from above while the crane moved the slings underneath us. Two divers positioned the slings for a clean lift, then we stepped off onto the C-Tow work-boat that was idling alongside. We watched while Sequoia was lifted to deck level in what seemed like 30 seconds. Once over the freighter's deck and being jockeyed into position I was finally able to start breathing again. The work-boat took us back to the Empress (and Mark's car) and we drove back to Ogden Point.
The reason for the crew's speedy lift became apparent as the weather quickly degenerated. By the time Sequoia was in place, the day's gray skies and moderate breeze had turned into torrential rain and over 30 kn of wind, driving whitecaps well into the Victoria harbor. By the time we got back to Ogden Point., cleared security and signed the freighter's entry log, Sequoia was nestled into a small forest of jack stands, each welded into position on the freighter's deck. I went up and restored the backstay and buttoned the boat up. Did I mention that the boats were snugly packed on the freighter's deck? I boarded Sequoia from the swimstep of the Army cat, and I don't think there was more than 4 inches separating it and the Workinprogress.
All in all, it was a fascinating, if occasionally tense, process. Fingers crossed for a smooth trip down the coast and through the Panama canal, Sequoia should arrive in West Palm Beach about mid-April. It is possible Barbara and I will fly to Florida to meet it and get it to the next leg of transport, but as of now, none of those details can be accurately planned, as the ship for the next leg has yet to be identified. This just reinforces an old cruising maxim of ours: "Schedules make you CRAZY!" Whatever comes will be an adventure.
Thanks to Joe Carr for the photo of Sequoia being lifted onto the Merwedegracht. Check out Joe's video of the lift at the link found at the bottom of the right-hand column of this page.
10 March 2017
Getting ready for a trip is just a question of putting one foot in front of another. One of those steps will be stepping off of Sequoia as she's put onto a freighter. Another step will be stepping onto an airplane and going to meet the boat as she arrives in England. Every step in between is about the same size - it's just that some are more consequential than others. This narrative is about some of these baby steps, on the way to getting Sequoia put aboard the MV Merwedegracht in Victoria about a week from now.
You'll recall that Craig decided not to take Sequoia up the coast because of his broken ribs. We hired Dave King to do that, accompanied by his friend Erik and our friend Mark. We hired Commanders Weather (a weather routing company) to give us recommendations about when to go. Even if you don't already know it, you probably suspect that the coasts of Oregon and Washington can provide some of the most difficult weather and sea conditions it's possible to find in the world. We told Commanders that we had to have the boat in Victoria for loading on March 18, so what we needed was the best weather window during that time period. They told us that March 3-5 looked pretty good, and then there wouldn't be another opportunity until about March 10. Dave, in consultation with Craig, decided to go for the March 3-5 window.
Craig went along for the trip down the river to Astoria on Friday, and I drove down to meet them, have dinner together and then bring Craig back home. They had a good trip down the river, although the rain was a bit more driving than was predicted. Certainly as I drove to Astoria, it was through sheets of wind-driven rain.
Sequoia and her crew left Astoria midday Saturday, timed for the most benign current state on the Columbia River bar. Shortly after crossing the bar, they evidently crossed into a dense field of crab traps, coming right up to the edge of the shipping lanes. Unfortunately the line from one of the traps got wrapped around Sequoia's prop, and there was a lot of back and forth, vibration, and eventually they shook the line loose (we think). The trip up the coast was fast, with plenty of wind from the south, and a favorable current. In the evening, Craig and Mark had a conversation on ham radio, where they talked about the problem with the crab trap. It's always very satisfying to make connection by radio, and we were able to see them on the marinetraffic.com website, showing their position just off Willapa Bay at that time.
Sequoia reached Neah Bay in record time, midday on Sunday, March 5. They reported that they'd seen plenty of snow out on the ocean, and the visible coastline was covered with snow. It turned out the alternator had bit the dust during the voyage, probably due to the vibration from the crab trap line (Craig says it's a very poor design to be vulnerable to vibration like that.) They were able to spend the night at the dock there, and recharge the batteries before the final leg to Port Angeles.
Craig made some calls, and was able to get a replacement alternator ordered. As it turns out, we had bought this alternator 364 days before it failed, and it had a one-year warranty. When has that ever happened? Every other experience, the item fails a day or two AFTER the warranty expires, not a day or two before! So the replacement alternator came to us without cost. Evidently we were not the first such failure. There had been an interim design change to fix the problem, and the alternator we would be getting would have the newer design.
We drove up to Port Angeles the next morning, and were able to meet Sequoia as she came into the harbor there. Craig was able to quickly unbolt the defective alternator, and we took that, and the three guys, home to Portland.
As I write this, we're preparing to make another trip up to Port Angeles, to get the new alternator installed, and take care of some other chores that have been awaiting a spare moment. Although it's pouring rain tonight, the forecast for tomorrow is pretty good, so we'll get up there early to take advantage of some promised sunshine.
02 March 2017 | St. Helens, Oregon
Many of you know that we've been planning a major sailing adventure which is now almost upon us. Lately we've been wondering whether we could start this adventure at all, as the fates have been throwing one thing after another at us, possibly in an attempt to dissuade us. It's not working! We're going!
I had my knee replaced nearly a year ago, and that overcame a major barrier to my being active enough (and flexible enough) to do this trip. Lots of PT was required, and we both joined a gym to ramp up on our general fitness and flexibility. In January, Craig fell off a ladder in the boatyard and broke a rib, in February I had a basal cell carcinoma removed from my face, and in March Craig will need to have unexpected major dental work. That's it. No more. We're going.
We've contracted with a shipping company to carry our sailboat, Sequoia, aboard a freighter to England. The actual date of shipping has been something of a moving target, but loading is now set to be March 17 or 18 in Victoria, B.C. Because of Craig's broken rib, we've had to hire a skipper to take the boat up the coast, arriving in Victoria at least a couple of days before the loading date. There's a line of storms heading at the Oregon and Washington coasts for the next week or more, so taking the boat to Victoria will be a major adventure. In conjunction with our hired skipper, we'll be looking for weather windows. I'm glad enough not to be part of that trip!
We've been loading the boat up with supplies for the boat and the coming summer, including cooking utensils, food, spare parts, emergency equipment, sewing supplies, music, movies, and everything else we've been able to think of. In preparation for the upcoming adventure we have new sails, new electronics, and a variety of updates for systems on the boat. Now we're down to the last few trips to the boat with cartloads of stuff, carrying everything down the dock through the rain and snow (this winter has been unreal in terms of the amount of nasty weather we've had!)
So what are our plans, you might ask? Well, the first thing is to get the boat to England. There will be a stopover in Palm Beach Florida, where Sequoia will get transferred onto another freighter. (Yes, that Palm Beach, winter White House of you-know-who). The boat may have to wait as long as 4 weeks to catch that second freighter. If that happens, we might catch a plane to Florida and go sailing.
Once we get to England and get Sequoia restored to full sailing condition, we plan to spend the summer cruising in the Baltic Sea. Many years ago we had a Swedish exchange student who came from an important Swedish maritime city, Karlskrona, on the south coast of Sweden. We visited Henrik and the Olsson family in Karlskrona in the dead of winter when the harbor was frozen solid, but there was born, I think, the idea of visiting again aboard our own boat. The Olssons even made us a gift of a maritime chart of Karlskrona and surrounding waters. At the time, I don't think we had any idea such a visit would actually become possible.
So the summer in the Baltic Sea will include the visit to Karlskrona as its centerpiece, but while we're there we'll also visit other parts of Sweden, as well as Germany, Denmark, Finland and perhaps St. Petersburg, Russia. We'll enter the Baltic through the Kiel Canal, and hope to complete a passage through Sweden along the Gota Canal. Very exciting to think about!
At the end of this summer, we'll return to the UK, put Sequoia on the hard somewhere, and fly home to Oregon. We'll play the 2017-18 seasons of our two orchestras in Oregon, and then ask for a one-year leave of absence from both. Returning to England in the spring of 2018, we'll sail south and west in a leisurely sort of way, planning to arrive in Oregon mid-summer, 2019.
Arrival home after 18 day passage from Hawaii
26 July 2011 | St. Helens/Scappoose, OR
Barbara, cloudy -- Portland trying for summer
We made it! We’re at home, contemplating the overgrown garden and the deer munching contentedly on everything, and most especially on those Oregon strawberries we’ve been longing for all year! Oh well – it’s good to be home, and everything seems to be in good order. The country is in political crisis, the politics is ugly, and so what’s new? We’re picking up the threads of our land-based life, and trying to remember old habits (like how, exactly, does that washing machine work?)
We expected the last few days of our passage from Hawaii to be relatively calm and flat, and we expected to motor most, if not all, of the way. It was just as expected, until about 24 hours before we arrived at the Columbia River bar. Then the wind came up, and we were soon close hauled in big, lumpy, confused seas. Nice to have the engine off, but we were soon rolling, banging and slapping, and meal preparation once again became that familiar exercise of athleticism and paranoia. I was doing a dive to the bottom of the refrigerator, which involves removing everything from the top layer, and finding someplace stable to put each removed thing. I’ve gotten used to using the stovetop, because the stove is on gimbals, so stays relatively level all the time – although it does swing a bit as the boat rolls back and forth. One of the items in the refrigerator’s top layer was a tall half-gallon container of orange juice. I put it on the front of the stove, and in a particularly violent lurch, while I wasn’t paying close enough attention, it tipped off the stove, hit the floor, and dumped its entire contents into the bilge, the beverage locker, onto the carpets, into the head (bathroom) and onto the floor of Mark’s cabin. Expletives were heard. Loud expletives.
Ultimately, we just decided to clean up the hard surfaces and throw towels down over the wet sticky carpeting. After all, weren’t we just 24 hours from home? The lumpy seas (we started to call it “the washing machine”) continued, and we all had difficulty sleeping. I’m sure it wasn’t helped by the knowledge that first light would bring us within sight of land.
At this point we were surrounded by lots of fishing boats. Craig had caught an albacore in the afternoon (that was dinner – YUM!) so it was not surprising that there were lots of fishing boats in the vicinity. We were using the radar almost constantly, because the boats were hard to see in the mists. At night it became much easier, both because the mists lifted, and because the fishers all seem to light up their decks and surrounding sea with big mercury vapor lamps. Even when a fishing boat is over the horizon, you can still see the loom of light above it. (The astronomers – the low light guys – must hate that practice of the fishing boats). At one point, just after I went off watch at midnight, Mark called me to come up, saying he had a boat in sight that he was having trouble identifying – it didn’t appear on the radar. The putative boat appeared to be a sailboat, with spinnaker out, strangely luminescent with a yellow-orange color. But it couldn’t be, because a spinnaker couldn’t possibly be out in that direction – into the wind. Light-bulb moment: it was the moon, just coming up over the horizon. No wonder it didn’t appear on the radar!
For the last few days, we had been adjusting our speed to time our arrival for (relatively) slack water at 5:00 am at the Columbia River bar. That’s the current stage when waves are least likely to be a problem. Of course we knew from friends that the Columbia River is extraordinarily full for this time of year, with a current of 2.5 knots running for most of its length at least up to the Portland area. Thus there really is no slack water at the bar—it’s always flowing out. We arrived about 20 minutes late (not bad for an 18 day passage!) and the bar was a complete non-event. We took pictures at the moment of crossing the bar, and there are no significant waves showing in the background. The sun was shining brilliantly, and the fog we could see just inland from Astoria dissipated before we reached it. We decided not to touch land at all in Astoria, but just bomb up the river as fast as we could, hoping to reach St. Helens by 5:00 or 6:00 pm. We had plenty of fuel left, and we pushed the throttle up to 2500 rpm, which yielded 8 knots of speed. (Speed through water: 5.8 knots, because of the adverse current).
We hooked up the wash down pump, and using river water, washed all the salt off the boat. We stowed lines, inflated fenders, vacuumed the interior, and ate leftovers out of the refrigerator. We were passed by a lot of commercial traffic heading upriver. At one point, we were being passed by a tug towing a barge that was carrying two other smaller barges. A giant Honda car-carrier came up behind him, and passed us both. I didn't know the river was wide enough for that!
The sunshine was quite lovely – apparently coming out just for our arrival. We reached St. Helens at about 6:00 and then had a lovely dinner with a welcoming committee of friends. Glad to be home!
Now, it’s back to the mountains of mildewed laundry and the piles of mail that have accumulated over the past year. We’ll alternate working on that with removing every mildewed thing from the boat, cleaning all with bleach, dousing the carpets with buckets of water, and then – hopefully – finding several days of hot sunshine in a row to dry everything out. Next we’ll try to tackle the overgrown garden, figure out how to scare off the deer, and then we’ll be off to California for the wedding of our son, David, to the lovely Tara Hernandez. I’m hoping that somewhere in there will be the opportunity for me to get together with old or new chamber music friends, and resume the life of a musician!